Beijing on Thursday ratified a plan to impose draconian sedition and subversion legislation on Hong Kong that would enable its feared state security police to operate in the city, which was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms under the 1997 handover to China.
The rubber-stamp National People's Congress (NPC) passed the proposal by 2,878 "votes" to 1, with six abstentions, paving the way for the powerful NPC standing committee to draft the legislation and insert it into Hong Kong law without going through the city's own legislature.
Media footage of the voting buttons at the desks of NPC delegates showed three options: "In favor," "support," and "agree." The one vote against was apparently triggered by someone not pressing any button at all, reports said.
In a move that likely signals the end of Hong Kong's promised autonomy and traditional freedoms of speech and association, the ruling Chinese Communist Party says the law is needed owing to "notable national security risks" following months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Introducing the proposal on May 21, NPC vice chairman Wang Chen said "forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop, and punish such activities."
Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong was expected to bring in legislation banning acts of "treason, secession, sedition [or] subversion," but city-wide protests and the likelihood of a pro-democracy landslide at Legislative Council (LegCo) elections in September have led Beijing to conclude that this might not occur for some time.
An earlier version of the law was shelved following mass popular protests in 2003.
The law is also intended "to prohibit foreign political organizations from conducting political activities in Hong Kong, and to prohibit political organizations from establishing ties with foreign political organizations," according to state media.
The decision will enable the authorities to "prevent, stop and punish" any activities deemed by Beijing to be subversive, or instigated by "foreign forces." Such legislation has been used in mainland China to accuse journalists of spying, or to punish peaceful critics of the regime.
When needed, state security police from mainland China will set up shop in Hong Kong to fulfill their duties under the new law, according to a precis of the decision supplied by Xinhua.
The NPC standing committee will now formulate the legislation and insert it into Annex 3 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, whereupon it will become law in Hong Kong, without the need to pass through LegCo.
The end of autonomy
Commentators in the city said the announcement has marked the end of Hong Kong's promised autonomy under the "one country, two systems" formula.
Premier Li Keqiang told NPC delegates on Thursday that the law would "stabilize" the city, and ensure its "long-term stability and prosperity."
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam issued an immediate statement welcoming the move.
"I welcome the passage of the Decision by the NPC," Lam said.
"Safeguarding national sovereignty, security, and development interests is the constitutional duty of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and concerns every Hong Kong citizen."
She said the decision showed the "care" that Beijing had for Hong Kong.
"The legislation to be enacted for the HKSAR to safeguard national security aims to prevent, curb, and sanction an extremely small minority of criminals who threaten national security," Lam said, echoing recent comments by Chinese officials.
She said it wouldn't affect the "legitimate" rights and freedoms of the city's seven million residents, without elaborating on what "legitimate" meant.
Hong Kong and Chinese officials have increasingly used anti-terrorism rhetoric to describe the activities of a minority of protesters who have resisted widespread violence from riot police with barricades, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and other makeshift weapons.
Reported by Lu Xi and Man Hoi-tsan for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.